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Class Sizes Grew Again, New City Figures Show

Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - 06:19 PM

Another year of cuts to schools' budgets has brought with it an anticipated rise in class sizes across the city, with elementary schools seeing the biggest increase, according to city figures made public on Tuesday.

The new class size figures, which were posted on the City Department of Education's Web site, show that for the third consecutive year the numbers have climbed, though not at the rate that many had predicted.

There are now, on average, two more kindergartners per class than there were in 2008, and roughly three more third graders per class than four years ago.

"As a consequence of nearly $1.7 billion in state and federal budget cuts, we fully anticipated that class sizes would rise modestly and we are pleased that the increase is below what we initially projected," Barbara Morgan, a Department of Education spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Last May, Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott predicted that average class sizes this year would rise by two students. Instead, the average rose this year by less than one student citywide.

Class sizes in elementary schools rose by roughly 3 percent, to 24.4 average students a class, from 23.7. Middle schools increased to 27.1 average students per class, from 26.8, and high schools average class sizes rose to 26.8 students, from 26.4.

Though the averages climbed in slight increments over last year, they have been steadily increasing since 2009.

The class size increases come four years after the city made a commitment to reduce class sizes across all grades using state money dedicated for that purpose. Under that agreement, kindergartens were to have fewer than 20 students by 2012. But by last November, when the city's teachers' union sued the city's Education Department, claiming misuse of the money, kindergarten classes had an average of 22.1 students.

The class size reduction plan had assumed that the state aid would be more than it turned out to be. Since 2008, the city has received $2.68 billion in Contract for Excellence money, $530 million of that for this school year. Yet that is a significantly smaller amount than the city was meant to receive. Following the economic downturn, the State Legislature froze the additional aid at the prior year’s levels. And this year, the Legislature cut aid to the city's schools by $1.3 billion.

At Public School 19 Marino Jeantet in Corona, Queens, a perpetually overcrowded school that is at 127 percent capacity, some fifth-grade classes have as many as 30 students in them — just shy of the 32 student maximum. The kindergarten classes are right at the limit of 25 students.

P.S. 169 Sunset Park in Brooklyn, another school that has more students than space for them, has passed that limit. At least one kindergarten class has 26 students, and there are 33 students assigned to a fifth-grade class.

The teachers' union's contract limits classes for kindergartners to 25 students. For grades one to six, the maximum is 32 students; for middle schools it is 33; and for high schools it is 34.

Ten days into this school year, the city's teachers' union released its annual class-size report, which is based on a survey it conducts of its members. It found that nearly 7,000 classes were over the legal limit. The union has since filed dozens of grievances and though it is typical for many of those classes to have been reduced in size, city officials were unable to provide the number of classes that are currently over the contractual limit.

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